In vitro and in vivo stability of caffeic acid phenethyl ester, a bioactive compound of propolis

J Agric Food Chem. 2007 May 2;55(9):3398-407. doi: 10.1021/jf063477o. Epub 2007 Mar 30.


The in vitro biochemical stability of caffeic acid phenethyl ester in rat and human plasma was investigated and compared with the stability of other caffeic acid esters (chlorogenic acid and rosmarinic acid). The incubation of the compounds in rat plasma for up to 6 h showed that caffeic acid phenethyl ester, but not the other compounds, was hydrolyzed, whereas human plasma did not affect the stability of all the assayed compounds. The products in rat plasma were caffeic acid and an unknown compound, which was identified by mass spectrometry as caffeic acid ethyl ester, produced by transesterification in the presence of ethanol used as vehicle for standard compounds. Specific inhibitors of different plasma esterases allowed the identification of a carboxylesterase as the enzyme involved in the metabolism of caffeic acid phenethyl ester. The oral administration in rats of caffeic acid phenethyl ester in the presence of both ethanol and 2-(2-ethoxyethoxy)ethanol gave rise to a dramatic increase of caffeic acid, as well as low levels of caffeic acid phenethyl ester, caffeic acid ethyl ester, and caffeic acid 2-(2-ethoxyethoxy)ethyl ester, in urine collected within 24 h after treatment. These results suggest that caffeic acid phenethyl ester is hydrolyzed also in vivo to caffeic acid as the major metabolite and that its biological activities should be more properly assayed and compared with those of caffeic acid, its bioactive hydrolysis product. Moreover, alcohols should be carefully used in vivo as solvents for caffeic acid phenethyl ester, since they can give rise to new bioactive caffeic acid esters.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caffeic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Caffeic Acids / blood*
  • Caffeic Acids / pharmacokinetics*
  • Chlorogenic Acid / blood
  • Cinnamates / blood
  • Depsides / blood
  • Drug Stability
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / administration & dosage
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / blood
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / pharmacokinetics
  • Propolis / chemistry*
  • Rats


  • Caffeic Acids
  • Cinnamates
  • Depsides
  • Chlorogenic Acid
  • Propolis
  • caffeic acid phenethyl ester
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol
  • rosmarinic acid
  • caffeic acid